The wedding madness has passed. And my little sister is now a married woman. My heart is crazy happy for her. The wedding was absolutely beautiful. And I am absolutely pooped (in the best possible way). In true fashion, we bit off more than we could chew. But we got it done. Read more

I have this indescribable, yet unnecessary, need to make everything from scratch. Pop tarts. Naan. Pie Crust. Ice Cream. Pasta. At times it can be ridiculous. Overzealous. Marked by trial and error and more error. But in the end, after I wipe the flour, sweat, and, in this case, fig puree from my forehead, I feel accomplished. I beat the machine, the big company, the artificial flavors, the cardboard packaging and plastic wrapping. Sweet victory. Read more

I’m a dreamer. As I child, I dreamt I would play in the World Cup, challenging the likes of Mia Hamm. As a teenager, I dreamt I would drive around in a brand new VW Bug, with a fresh flower occupying its interior vase. As an adult, I dreamt I would be a baker. Read more

One of my most favorite fall activities is apple picking. It makes me feel like a kid again even though I never went apple picking as a kid. Maybe I like it because I’ve finally figured out what the heck the word peck means. Pick a peck of pickled peppers. Never understood that nursery rhyme. Until now. Makes me feel like a kid again. Read more

I’m not sure if I should title this Cupcakes 101, Baking 101, or Melissa’s Baking Philosophy. I did a presentation on this a couple weeks ago and called it Cupcakes 101. So we’ll stick with that. Just know—this isn’t your ordinary cupcake talk. I apologize.

I mentioned doing a presentation. On food. First time ever. Yes, I was nervous. Nail biting nervous. I’m used to presenting logos, brochures, and ideas, but food…I love food. It’s got an extra soft spot in my heart and in my stomach. But I’m no expert. I’m self taught. I guess you could say Martha taught me everything I know via daytime television. That gives me some credibility. But it ends there. Most days, it’s just me, my kitchen, trial, and error. Read more

Last month I made this decadent chocolate chip cake. And topped it with a hand drawn sign. I had every intention of making it available to you, but in the flurry of serving and eating the cake, the sign disappeared. Probably selling for big bucks on e-Bay. Ha!

Ask and you shall receive. A reader asked for the sign this week so I decided to go digging around for my original template. Found—under a stack of unread Real Simple magazines. (Don’t worry, I will read these cover to cover.) So, I did a little scanning and editing and viola! A downloable PDF just for you! Read more

This cake was supposed to be easy. I was going to brag about how fast I whipped it out. Ha Ha Ha. Oh the irony. One thing got in the way. That stupid virtue. You know the one. Patience. I’m scowling at the word as I type.

This recipe is easy. You just have to be patient. Don’t worry—I was impatient for you. I’ll let you know when you’re about to derail this simple recipe, making it complicated.

I really needed this cake to be simple. I got home from work at 5:30 pm, and had to be somewhere by 7:43 pm—leaving me a little over 2 hours to make a cake. Not bad. So while I made the cake, graduate school husband went to the grocery store to pick up the goods for the icing. Made the cake, no problem. I was home by 11 and ready to whip up a quick icing. In my defense, the word ‘icing’ was deceiving. Ganache would have been a better word choice. Needless to say, I exercised impatience. The icing wasn’t thickening as fast as I wanted to go to bed. So, I whipped up a meringue and added it to the icing thinking it would help it to stabilize. It was a runny mess. However, I proceeded to pour it all over the cake. What was I thinking? Meanwhile I looked at the remnants of the bowl with the orignal chocolate icing. Guess what. It had thickened up. In an abnormally calm manner, I directed graduate school husband to make another batch of ganache. He normally doesn’t involve himself in my baking adventures, but he was so helpful. I proceeded to scrape the cake of the runny chocolate mess. No lie, I wiped it down with a wet paper towel. We let the ganache set overnight and went to bed. 12:30pm. By morning, the ganache was perfect, so I re-iced the cake. Sprinkled with powdered sugar and shaved dark chocolate.

I was so thankful the cake was still salvageable. I’m not sure if this congrats sign ended up being for me or for my graduate school husband, although it was intended for him. He and his coworkers just finished up their practicum for the year and had a BBQ to celebrate/say goodbye. I’m going to miss those guys. They welcomed me into the group as if I were one of them. They gave me a nickname. They ate my food.

And they devoured this cake. Thank the Lord it turned out. I promise to be more virtuous.

Chocolate Chip Cake
recipe from United Cakes of America

1/4 c. milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 c. AP unbleached flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

10 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. lightly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk

1. Preheat oven to 335° and place rack in middle position. Line the bottom of two 9-inch round pans with parchment paper.
2. Combine wet ingredients in a bowl. Combine dry ingredients, except the chocolate chips, in separate bowl. Set aside.
3. Using a spatula, toss 2 tablespoons of the wet ingredients with the chocolate chips in a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the dry ingredients. Toss again to coat evenly. This will keep the chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
4. Mix butter and sugars in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment until well creamed, about 3 minutes.
5. Add egg and egg yolk one at a time.
6. Alternately add dry and wet mixtures about a quarter at a time without pausing between additions.
7. Removed the bowl and fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula. The dough will be thick—more like cookie dough than cake batter.
8. Divide dough into prepared pans. It will be too thick to fill the pan to the edges, but will spread under the heat of the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until edges crown and surface is browned.
9. Cool the cakes in pans to room temperature, then invert them using a small offset spatula to release edges.
10. Make ganache. Spread thick layer between the two cakes. Dust the top with confectioners sugar. Shave dark chocolate and sprinkle on top.

Chocolate Icing/Ganache

1 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate
2 tsp. vanilla extract
dash of sea salt

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring cream and sugar to a light simmer, stirring occasionally. Place the butter, chocolate, vanilla, and sea salt in a large bowl.
2. Pour hot cream over ingredients in the bowl and let stand for a few minutes to melt the chocolate. Whisk until smooth and set aside to cool, but do not refrigerate. Here’s the part where you may derail if you neglect that virtue. Be patient. It will set up.
3. Once the icing has thickened, stir it with a flexible spatula to a spreadable consistency.

For a downloadable PDF of the cake banner and instructions, click here.

Three years ago today, we said I do. Three years! I guess we’re not newlyweds anymore. And I’m not so sad about that. I love that I know my husband 3 years better than I did when we got married. I love that I love my husband 3 years more than I did when we got married. The path hasn’t always been straight or easy, but it has been rewarding. So thankful to share this journey with Kevin, my sweet graduate school husband. To many decades more!

Speaking of sweet, I made a cake. A mini anniversary cake. I think I’ve started a new tradition in our marriage.

Isn’t it cute? Anything tiny is somehow cute. At it’s widest, it’s 3.5 inches—perfect for 2 people. It tastes like a wedding cake too. You know the wedding cake taste—fruity, decadent, and rich. So I took a risk and crafted a new recipe with hints of orange and almond (based off this one). Luckily the risk paid off—it’s my new favorite cake. Happy Anniversary to us!

Anniversary Cake
Almond + orange cake, inspired by Cake Love
makes one 9-inch pan 

1/2 c.+ 2 tbsp. unbleached AP flour
2 tbsp. potato starch (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
3 tbsp. finely ground almonds
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. half and half
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. orange zest
1 tbsp. orange juice, freshly squeezed

6 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temp
3/4 c. + 2 tbsp. extra-fine granulated sugar (I food process my regular sugar)
2 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Set rack in the middle of the oven.
2. Set out ingredients and equipment. Sift flour. Finely pulse almonds to a flour like consistency. Measure dry ingredients into separate mixing bowl. Add flour and almonds and whisk together. Measure liquid ingredients into a separate bowl and set aside. Place butter and sugar in bowl of standing mixer. Crack eggs into a separate bowl and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on the lowest speed for 3-5 minutes. (This will feel odd, but keep it on low.)
4. With the mixer still on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. Add the dry ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in 3 to 5 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Move swiftly through the step to avoid overworking the batter. Don’t wait for the dry or liquid mixtures to be fully incorporated before adding the next. This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.
6. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl all the way down. Don’t miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom. Mix on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds to develop the batter’s structure.
7. Prepare the 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Do not spray the sides of the pan. (This helps to keep your cake from doming in the middle as it bakes. The cake is able to crawl up the side as it bakes and maintain an even shape.)
8. Place batter in pan. Bake for 28 minutes.
9. Once the top of the cake doesn’t jiggle in the center, test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the cake. The center should be an even blonde color and the edges should be just beginning to pull away from the pan. When the skewer shows a touch of crumbs or comes out clean, the cake is done.
10. Cool cake for 20 minutes before removing from the pan. Use a small off-set spatula to loosen the cake from the rim of the pan. Carefully invert and remove parchment paper. Allow to cool completely before assembling.

Italian Meringue Buttercream with a hint of orange
recipe from Cake Love by Warren Brown; makes 2-2 1/2 cups
* a candy thermometer is necessary for this recipe

2 1/2 egg whites
1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. extra-fine sugar
2 tbsp. cold water
2 sticks butter
1/2 tsp. orange oil

1. Set out ingredients and equipment. Separate the egg whites into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (for the 1/2 egg white, crack into separate bowl and only add half of the white). Measure 1/2 cup sugar and the water into a 1-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Gently stir to combine. Measure the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar into a separate bowl. Cut the butter into tablespoon sized pieces and set aside.
2. To make the sugar syrup, place the candy thermomometer in the sauce pan and heat the mixture over medium-high heat. Partially cover with lid to capture the evaporating water—this helps to moisten the sides of the saucepan to prevent sugar crystals from forming.
3. With the  mixer on high speed, begin whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks. When the peaks are stiff, you have a meringue.
4. Keep the mixture running and pour the 2 tablespoons of sugar into the meringue.
5. Raise the heat under the sugar syrup to bring the syrup to 245° if it’s not there already. When it has reached 245°, remove the thermometer and slowly pour the syrup into the meringue, with the mixer running. (It helps to hold the pan just above the height of the mixer. Pour confidently trying to hit the meringue and not the side of the bowl.)
6. After 1 to 2 minutes, reduce the speed of the mixture to medium for 3-4 minutes or until meringue is cooled. Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase the mixer speed to high for 1 to 2 minutes or until the butter is fully incorporated. Add orange oil. Mix one final time.

Assemble the Cake
1. Using biscuit cutters, cut two 3.5″ circles and two 2.5″ circles.
2. Assemble the tiers separately. Fill bottom layer of each tier with buttercream. Apply a crumb coat to each tier. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Ice bottom tier and top tier separately. To achieve the rustic look, pull a butter knife around the circumference of the cake. Start from bottom and work up.
4. Using a flexible spatula, carefully place the top tier of cake on to bottom tier. Clean up any knicks in the move. The italian meringue buttercream repairs easily.
5. Store cake in refrigerator, covered. Serve at room temperature.
*For in-depth cake assembly instructions, click here.